Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 28, 2011 - 1:00am

In a childish response two weeks ago to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goaded, "whoever is in a bunker should stay there." Speaking on the Knesset rostrum a few days later, Netanyahu invited the citizens of Israel to join him in his bunker. The prime minister spoke of the missiles fired by Hamas from Gaza, reprimanded the fools who forced the settlers to leave their Gush Katif bunkers, and peppered his remarks with references to the Iranian threat. He urged Israelis to "get rid of the conception" they have maintained and to recognize the fact that our region is unstable, and that the only real asset we have is "our strength, unity and determination to defend ourselves."

That is the gist of the our premier's strategic conception, in response to the upheavals that have struck the Middle East: It's too bad that "we left the Gaza Strip, and so we will continue to settle" Judea and Samaria.

The most dangerous, weak link in Netanyahu's conception is his denial of the connection between the reality in our region and the Israeli-Arab conflict. Twelve years ago, Prof. Bernard Lewis stressed the important role played by Israel in the developing struggle between proponents of liberal democratization and Islamic fundamentalists. In his work "The Future of the Middle East" (1997 ), Lewis wrote that in an era where pan-Arabic nationalism and its opposition to imperialism has become but a distant memory, the struggle against Israel has become the only factor common to all Arabs. As he saw it, the regional struggle between democratic ideologies and fundamentalism would determine the future of Israeli-Arab relations.

Toward the end of the first Netanyahu government's term, this well-respected Jewish expert in Middle East studies estimated that some of the paths followed by Israel's governments have done more for pan-Arabism than what any Arab leader since Nasser has done. Furthermore, Lewis anticipated that the peace process would come to a stop, and even regress, due to the fanaticism of inexperienced leaders in the region, their inanity - or a combination of both factors. Twelve years later, due to his own fanaticism, and/or inanity, an Israeli leader is reinforcing harmful elements and weakening moderate forces in the region.

Last week Netanyahu declared that Israel needs to take into consideration the fact that extreme Islamic forces, particularly Iran, are trying to exploit the upheavals that have occurred and to undermine democratic reforms. And how has he "taken into account" these threatening forces? Rather than pursuing negotiations with the Palestinian national movement concerning territories in the West Bank, the prime minister keeps pointing to the precedent of the unilateral transfer of areas of Gaza to the "subsidiary" of the Muslim Brotherhood, without negotiations.

Is it possible that he doesn't grasp how the deepening of the occupation is what strengthens Hamas, Hezbollah and their Iranian patrons? The convulsions that have swept the region should have reminded Netanyahu that hunkering down in a bunker is not a formula for stability. Indeed, entrenching himself, he is trying to exploit natural anxiety over situations of instability in order to stave off any movement on the peace track. Twice the wrath of Palestinian terror helped him oust the peace camp from the government. Since buses have stopped exploding, the premier has been clutching the Iranian bomb.

Israel has a dispute with the Arab world, not the Muslim world. Some terror protagonists, among them Popular Front leaders George Habash and Naif Hawatma, were Christians. More Jews have been massacred as a result of the religious faith of pious Christians than that of Muslims.

President Anwar Sadat was an observant Muslim, and to justify the peace agreement with Israel, he referred to the Koran verse stating: "If the enemy incline toward peace, do thou (also ) incline." This verse greeted him on Cairo's streets when he returned from his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977. Yasser Arafat was a pious Muslim, and he adopted the Arab peace initiative of March 2002. The initiative was later adopted by 57 Islamic states, which are united in the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

What would happen if, after Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, the democratic revolution ousts the ayatollahs' regime in Iran? Would the prime minister then agree to freeze the settlements, relinquish the Jordan Valley and divide East Jerusalem? What exactly needs to happen for Netanyahu to lift his head out of the bunker?


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